Keeping backyard bees is one of my greatest pleasures. Sitting on the patio with a cup of coffee in hand, I watch their comings and goings daily. Foraging bees return with water, pollen, and nectar. Departing bees head out in a direction based upon the dance they watched in the hive. In spite of the activity, they never fly into each other. It is very much like watching the planes at a very busy airport, but on a much smaller scale.
Besides being a beekeeper, I am also an organic and sustainable gardener. All of my actions are thoughtful and deliberate. A healthy environment is good for man and insect. With a newly constructed hive waiting for a finish, there is no doubt that the coating will be natural and non-toxic for the soon-to-be inhabitants.
To start off the process, I consulted our small library of beekeeping books, read through various bee forums, and consulted with long time beekeepers. The one finish that was referred to over and over was a combination of linseed oil and beeswax.
Why linseed oil? It a natural product made from flaxseed. This oil has been used as a wood preservative as well as providing water resistance for centuries. As far as beeswax goes, it has been used as a wood conditioner for ages. It helps keep wood from drying out and also protects against moisture.
But before you create your natural finish, please be aware that there are a few potential issues when working with linseed oil. (For me, the benefits far outweigh these issues).
Potential Issues for Linseed Oil
- Surfaces may attract mildew. Not as much of an issue in drier climates.
- No protection against ultraviolet light so wood fibers can deteriorate.
- It can be difficult to remove from wood if you change your mind and want to apply something else.
- And most notably… it takes a long time to dry. It may take from a few weeks depending on how thickly it was applied. For best (and quick) results, apply in very thin coats.
It is worth noting that the type of linseed oil I used is raw, not boiled. It was my personal choice to stay with raw linseed oil. Boiled linseed oil has metallic dryers added which help speed up the drying process where raw linseed oil has no driers added. Examples of oil-soluble metal salts include: manganese with zirconium, cobalt, and lead per Steven D. Russell.
Benefits of linseed Oil
- Seeps into the wood which enhances the look of the grain.
- It is water-resistant.
- Easy to apply.
- Continues to protect as the wood expands and contracts depending on conditions.
Linseed Oil/Beeswax Recipe
- 1 ounce beeswax, shredded or in pellet form
- 4 Cups linseed oil
Melt the beeswax slowly, taking care not to take it over 160F. It is combustible at that point. You can melt the beeswax and linseed oil in a double boiler or you can melt it in a pan on the stove, but at a low temperature setting. You could also melt the beeswax separately, but it will begin to harden in clumps once the cool oil is introduced to the pan. By melting them together… no more clumps. Even when the mixture cools, there are no clumps of beeswax, it is one unified blend.
You are now ready to apply the mixture to the exterior of the hive. A brush or a rag work equally well. Remember to apply a thin coat to the unfinished wood of your hive. Once it has dried, you may add another coat, but be prepared to wait a week or more for it to dry before you can apply the second coat.
Add this recipe to your natural beekeeping arsenal. This mixture is non-toxic to bees, provides moisture protection, acts as a wood conditioner, and wood preservative. Sure it may take some patience as you wait between coats for the finish to dry, but your efforts will be greatly rewarded. What you end up with is a beautiful finish that will last for years that enhances the natural wood grain.
kathy & deb says
The grain on the hive looks great! Are you going to apply a second coat?
Thanks. I am so happy with how the linseed oil/beeswax finish made the wood grain just pop. It will definitely get a another coat as that will help the finish last longer.
Do you think edible, cold-pressed flaxseed oil will achieve the same effect as the linseed oil in this mixture?
I have not tried flaxseed oil so I am not certain what the results would be.
If you want a rotting smelling hive that will attract tons of SHB than yes go for it. Why try to re invent the wheel?
Linseed oil is a ‘drying oil’ that will harden over time. While there is some odor, it does not smell rotten. And this type of finish is a classic, ‘old school’ method for finishing the exterior of a wooden hive. I am not reinventing the wheel. Just offering an option to paint which (depending on brand) can release volatile organic compounds (VOC).
Jennifer Yanco says
Can this also be done with flaxseed oil (filtered)?
I have never tried this with flaxseed and so I am uncertain what the results would be like.
Why do people want to put an oil on that will literally go rancid if not refrigerated ?/
Linseed oil is considered a ‘drying oil’ so it hardens over time and does not go rancid like other oils.
Flaxseed and linseed oil are both extracted from the same plant. Flaxseed oil is essentially just food grade linseed oil.
Correct. Flaxseed oil should be refrigerated whereas linseed oil does not require that.
Ian Whitaker says
Is there any advantage to adding this to the inside of the hive as well?
The common protocol is to leave the inside of the hive unfinished.
Can you save the mixture if you have leftover?
Yes you can.
Jill Livingston says
Thank you for this post! Curious if you need to wait for the application to dry before adding bees?
I let it dry to the touch prior to adding bees.
Has anyone use Howard Feed-N-Wax on the outside of a hive?
I am not familiar with that product.